My mother’s delicious Bohemian potato salad has been a staple at all significant family events since I can remember. It was the centerpiece at the table for each Christmas, birthday, Thanksgiving and wedding.
While most Czech women will sway a bit when it comes to the exact ingredients, I feel that what really makes the difference in a potato salad is not only what goes in it, but how it is all mixed together. My mother has always mixed hers with the most important ingredient, love, and that is why it has always been so special and so tasty.
Over the years as my Czech cookbook collection grew, and new friends and long lost family members began to appear in my life, the recipes and variations on potato salad began to grow as well. I’ve tried too many to list and always come back to this one family favorite, my mother’s Bohemian potato salad.
I call it Bohemian because all of her ancestry comes from Prague, and historically Bohemia was the westernmost and largest historical region of the Czech lands in what is know known as present-day Czech Republic.
I recall her making this in small batches for dinner, and much larger batches for huge parties centering around picnics at Fort DeSoto Park on Florida’s Gulf Coast where for 20+ years Czechs from all over the world gathered to enjoy good company, great food and fun in the sun. The biggest batch was for my sister’s wedding where we must have boiled, peeled and lovingly assembled over 100 pounds of potatoes and the other ingredients that go into this Czech classic.
At Christmas, I would not think of serving anything other than her potato salad with fried fish, and this year I decided to share her recipe, especially for my cousins Tom, Sabrina and David whose own parents have passed away and who are greatly missed.
You see, to gather and eat the potato salad at Christmas is a memory all of us cherish and in this way, at least we can have a taste of the memories as we celebrate the holidays with our own families.
- 10 potatoes
- 5 eggs
- 1 small onion
- 5-6 large pickles (An imported Polish pickle is best.)
- 1 can mixed vegetables or a blend of peas and carrots (Veg-All brand is best.)
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup mayonnaise (Hellman’s brand is best.)
- 1 to 2 Tbsp. dijon mustard (Gulden’s brand is best.)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- salt and pepper to taste
The day before, boil your unpeeled potatoes completely submerged in salted water on medium-low for 20 minutes or until a fork will pierce them. You do not want them very soft, or they will mash up when you mix them, but you do not want them so hard that they taste raw. It takes experience to get them perfect and your fork will eventually know. When they are done, drain them and allow them to cool. We keep them in the refrigerator overnight, unpeeled, as this makes them much easier to work with the next day.
People will ask ‘what kind of potato?’ and we’ve made it from red, yellow, white, russet, fingerling and others and really, it’s up to your own taste of which potato you prefer. But if you are looking at consistency in your recipe, then russet is probably your best bet.
The following day, begin by boiling your eggs to a hardboiled stage. While they are boiling, you will want to peel your potatoes. Discard the peels (we place them under our lemon and avocado trees as they make a nice compost and the squirrels enjoy what remains). Then cut the potatoes into equal sized squares.
I want to thank my father who brought us this handy-dandy Czech tool, especially for this purpose, as it makes the perfect potato squares for our potato salad each and every time.
Place them into a very large mixing bowl. You will also finely chop the onion and the pickles and add to the mixing bowl. When I say finely chop,I chop them to almost disappearing stage. The last thing you want is the taste of onion overpowering the potato. In fact, while I mention this, I want to add that if when you are chopping the onion, your eyes immediately water and you can tell this is a very strong onion, I suggest putting it in a ziplock in the freezer for soup of something at a later time and getting another onion. Again, the last thing you want is to have the taste of onion dominate the potato salad.
Open the can of Veg-All and drain well. I do this in a sieve as I like to rinse the vegetables as well and if I happen to see any larger pieces, I cut them to a smaller size to match the size of the potatoes. I then add that to the mixture in the large bowl. I squeeze out the juice of 1 lemon and remove the seeds and then I pour that over the chopped potatoes and vegetables mixture. If the lemon is small or not so juicy, I will use two. At this time, I also sprinkle salt and pepper over the mixture.
By now, the eggs have boiled and I have run cold water into the pan to quickly cool them. I peel them and I separate the yolks from the whites. I place the yolks into a smaller mixing bowl and using a fork, I mash them until they resemble coarse crumbs. Then I add the mayonnaise and mustard and more salt and pepper, mixing to incorporate it all together. I set that aside.
Using a grater, I then grate the egg whites onto the potato mixture and I use a large wooden spoon to mix all of those ingredients together. You want to lift and fold as to not break the potatoes. Oftentimes, I end up setting the wooden spoon aside and I use my washed hands for the mixing. Then I pour the egg yolk-mayo mixture over the vegetable mixture and I incorporate it all together.
At this time, you will see how creamy your potato salad it. Some people like it with a lot of mayo, so feel free to add more. Some like a more dry potato salad, so this should suffice. Sometimes, if we are craving it to have a little more creaminess, I will use the small bowl and I will add more mayo, mustard and a tablespoon or two of pickle juice to make more mixer. It all depends on taste and desired consistency at this point.
Taste and add more salt and pepper if it’s needed giving it one more good mixing. Then cover and refrigerate overnight. The best potato salad is one that has been given ample time for the flavors to blend properly. To serve, you have many options, some of which are shown below.
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